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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 1, 2005 11:02 AM. The previous post in this blog was Oh, to be a fly on the wall. The next post in this blog is She's not there. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Thursday, December 1, 2005

An open letter to Bruce Warner

Dear Bruce Warner:

As the newly installed chief of the Portland Development Commission, you're faced with a nasty p.r. challenge. Those of us out here who have been following the PDC for a while have a host of complaints, particularly with the agency's gross lack of transparency under your predecessor.

Now that it's a brand new day and all that, I'm wondering if you could clear up a matter that one of my readers has brought to my attention. Namely, is the PDC complying with the state law that requires it to report to the public on the impact of its various programs on the property tax revenue that flows to the local taxing authorities?

Here's what state law says. It's ORS 457.460:

(1) An agency shall, by August 1 of each year, prepare a statement on the same basis on which its financial statements are prepared containing:
* * * * *

(e) An analysis of the impact, if any, of carrying out the urban renewal plan on the tax collections for the preceding year for all taxing districts included under ORS 457.430.

(2) The statement required by subsection (1) of this section shall be filed with the governing body of the municipality. Notice shall be published that the statement has been prepared and is on file with the municipality and the agency and the information contained in the statement is available to all interested persons. The notice shall be published once a week for not less than two successive weeks before September 1 of the year for which the statement is required in accordance with ORS 457.115. The notice shall summarize the information required under subsection (1)(a) to (d) of this section and shall set forth in full the information required under subsection (1)(e) of this section.

Looking through the reports that the PDC has filed in the recent past, the reader questions whether they comply with this legal requirement.

For example, here is the PDC report for the two fiscal years 2002-2004. When you get to the part where the PDC's supposed to show the impact of its urban renewal program on local tax collections, the PDC drops back 10 yards and punts. Look at the very last page, where the impact is supposed to be shown. It isn't. Instead, the PDC tries to get away with this:

[I]n FY 2000-01, local government levies were not affected by urban renewal, except as an increase in rates might contribute to Measure 5 compression. With the City of Portland, compression occurred on a "spot" basis because of the property-by-property computation of compression. It is not possible to determine the effect that urban renewal taxes had on each local jurisdiction with respect to spot compression.
That's it? No numbers, no facts and figures, just "it had some effect, but we can't tell you what it is"? Mr. Warner, I'm no municipal law expert, but that can't be what the Legislature intended when it passed that law.

Indeed, if you would like to see an agency that actually tries to comply with the law's mandate, take a look at the report that the City of Lake Oswego's redevelopment agency files. Here it is. Look at pages 8 through 13 (pages 10 through 15 of the pdf file), where you can see how they have done it.

If Lake Oswego can do it, Mr. Warner, why can't Portland?

Sincerely,
Jack Bogdanski

Comments (7)

Speaking of the PDC's PR challenges, has anything happened with the three public involvement positions that were posted amid much publicity earlier this year? There was also rumor of a PIO position which may or may not have been tabled with the resignation of Martha Richmond. Perhaps the reason that they are floundering at the moment is due to the fact that they, like many other places, are understaffed and overwhelmed. What will happen with their communications department? And when will things be changing for the better?

I don't think the issue here is the PR "challenges" at the PDC, it's the lack of transparency and (here's that awful word, again) accountability. Sounds as if you subscribe to the Anna Griffin Theory of Wilful Misdiagnosis

For some folks, any "challenge" can be addressed by adding staff (see any public entity) thereby spending more money.

In a perfect world, what would happen to their communications department, along with all the other "flounders", would be their dissolution.

Then we'll see things "changing for the better".

So not only do they divert millions of dollars from local goverment taxes to give to their favored insiders, they won't even comply with the law that tells them to report on how much money is being diverted?

They should be giving out this information WILLINGLY even without a state law that tells them to.

The PDC is out of control.

Of course the PDC should be reporting the yearly impact of their Urban Renewal operation.

Law or no law the public at large should be enabled by government agencies to stand in judgment of those agency activities.

Not only should the public get yearly impact reports, a cumulative, running total ( for each district) should be included so that people can know the long term amount of property taxes diverted to the Urban Renewal plans so many find unwise.

To City Club members,
Why didn't your review of the PDC show raise this lack of reporting by the PDC?
What is more germane to PDC operation than then the level of funding they divert from city coffers?

To journalists,
Why have you not reported clearly on Urban Renewal and it's true effect on taxing districts?

Steve--I was a member of the City Club research board when the PDC study was initiated and helped write the study's mission statement. When you take a bunch of fairly well-educated people who have proven they have no conflict of interest in the subject at hand, there is a steep learning curve. To get out a report in timely fashion (that is, within a couple of years), the scope of the study is usually narrowed. It is possible the questions you ask were outside the scope of the study, though I can't remember and have no idea if these questions were ever raised.

I cycled off the research board before the study was published. As I recall, the study committee was having trouble setting deadlines to finish the project, as just about every week, some new revelation about the PDC was coming out in the media. At some point, the committee had to say, "Enough," and write the report.

City Club studies often have lives long after their reports are published, however. The club now has an advocacy committee that tries to get a report's recommendations converted into public policy. And it's not unheard of for a report to be updated.

You can call Wade at City Club to find out if anything is going on with the PDC report.

And if you are not a member, why not join the City Club and have influence over what it does? It's only about $150 a year and you get a two-buck discount on the luncheon forums at the Governor.

See -- Sam Adams' Blog: Warren Jimenez: What is Economic Success?

See also -- Boring (or exciting) economic development stuff -- "lesser+industrialized+countries"

The Proper Classification of George Bush

"Eventually Mussolini established a new government in Italy based on the fascist principles of supporting business at the expense of everything else. In fact, Mussolini himself said 'Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of State and corporate power.' Looking at our current president and his policies, I'd say he fits the bill pretty well."

This old Ag Econ grad would look to whether anything that the PDC could speak too can be reduced in simplicity to something like the increase in number of ships (or metric tons) of wheat exports that result from the federal PL-480 program that finances poorer-country foreign purchases. The nexus between cause and effect is easier to quantify. (Yet even such gifts are tied to international politics, like for good old Saddam who diverted ships to get cash to buy weapons.)

Jack, "Trial By Blog" does not work unless the target feels compelled to answer.

Your challenge could be fully swallowed by an alternative inquiry; that of Why should there be Any tax (to cover interest payments) for anything that is characterized as promoting Economic Development. The methodology is all whack for nearly all local economic development proposals. They have at their heart qualitatively evil goals of benefits for a few at the expense of the many. It is already transparent enough, from a policy formulation perspective, at least transparent enough for me.

The statutory phrase might be simple, but that does not encapsulate larger issues that are qualitative in nature. Suppose you got an answer to your exact question . . . would it alter any subsequent argument, other than merely the magnitude of the problem?

One revelation from the PDC is the total payout of TIF monies (property taxes)during the 20 years of UR.
In SoWa alone the announced $288 million plan is really $160 million more in debt service.
making the 20 year expenditure $448 million. All of which is paid by the property taxes during that 20 years with many more year needed to break even.
Add up all the districts and the numbers truly get crazy.


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